A mouth-watering debut novel about self-discovery and shortbread…and a magical talent, both bitter and sweet.
After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, seeks comfort in the kitchen, away from her well-meaning but interfering relatives and her domineering sister, Amanda. The methodical chopping, slicing, and stirring soothe her anxiety, and the rich aroma of ribollita, painstakingly recreated from her Italian grandmother’s handwritten recipe, calms her senses. But it also draws an unexpected visitor: the ghost of Nonna herself, bearing a cryptic warning in rough English, “Do no let her,” before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.
Faced with grief and uncertainty, Ginny turns to her recipe collection, and in doing so, discovers that she has the power to call forth the ghost of any dead person whose dish she prepares. It’s a gift she is certain she cannot share with her pragmatic sister but that ultimately leads her to an unexpected friendship and the possibility of a new life.
The mystery deepens when Ginny finds a letter hidden behind a loose fireplace brick and a series of strange black and white photographs–evidence of a family secret she can’t untangle alone. As Amanda pushes her to sell the only home she’s ever known, Ginny decides that the key to her future lies within this provocative riddle from her parents’ past. But can she cook up a dish that will bring them back long enough to help her solve it?
For readers of Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells and Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, Jael McHenry’s thoughtful debut is a delicious, insightful story that considers the question: What does it really mean to be normal?
What I thought
I thought this book was a wonderful surprise–what an excellent, underrated debut novel!
The Kitchen Daughter was one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about every time I put it down. For one, I really enjoyed McHenry’s writing style. It was engaging & easy to read, so this turned out to be a quick read. Not only that, but her descriptions of food were so evocative that, as cliche as it sounds, I got hungry every time I was reading. I admit I wasn’t always familiar with all of the ingredients & dishes mentioned, but as someone who loves food, I really loved all of the recipes & foodie talk.
For me, I think my favorite part of this story was Ginny, hands down, and in particular, how uncomfortable her narrative made me feel. I should clarify. I mean that in the best way possible. As a reader, I think it’s very important to read perspectives that aren’t necessarily our own & I felt so uncomfortable because I realized how there are so many things I take for granted on a daily basis. It was so eye-opening for me to read a story from the perspective of someone with Asperger’s.
I’m also a huge fan of good character development, and I loved Ginny’s journey throughout this story. I loved the dichotomy of the opening & closing scenes and found that to be a very powerful representation of her growth.
Besides Ginny, I enjoyed reading about the family dynamics between her, Amanda, and their parents. Between revelations about their parents & learning to understand Amanda’s perspective, this book was a well-rounded look at families too.
Overall, this was a heartwarming yet poignant read perfect for a cozy night. With Just a dash of magical realism, a complex cast of characters, a protagonist you just can’t help but root for, and mouth-watering descriptions of food, this is one book you won’t want to miss! I’m bummed to see that Jael McHenry hasn’t written any books since this one, but she is an author I will definitely be following.